– Fr Fernando Armellini SCJ
Claretian Publications Macau
A steward is accused before the big landowner of malpractices. The master has him called and tells him what he heard about him. The facts are so clear. So he does not try to justify himself or mutter an explanation. He was immediately fired.
He starts to reflect. He knows only how to supervise; he is neither able to hoe nor to humble himself to beg for alms. Before leaving the job he must put the accounts in order; many debtors have still to deliver the products. I know what I must do, he exclaims.
He calls all the debtors and reduces their debts. In the future, these benefitted debtors will certainly not forget such generosity and they will feel obliged to offer him hospitality in their houses.
The story concludes with the master, as well as Jesus, praising the administrator. He acted with cunning. He’ll be imitated! We are expecting a different conclusion. Jesus should have said to his disciples: “Do not act like this villain; be honest!” Instead, he approves of what he did. The difficulty lies here: how could a dishonest person be offered as a model?
This difficulty does not exist if the parable is interpreted in a different way. We depart from the consideration that if the owner had felt cheated again (2,250 liters of oil and 110 quintals of grain are not small stuff) he would be outraged. If he praises his former administrator it means, in this process, he has not lost anything. We have to presume that the administrators must deliver a certain amount to their owner; what more they could get goes into their pockets and the figures could be higher. It was the technique used by the publicans to enrich themselves when they collected taxes.
What did the administrator of the parable do? Instead of behaving like a loan shark with the debtors, he left them the profit he expected to have.
The administrator was shrewd—says the Lord—because he understood on which to bet on: not on goods, products that he was entitled to, that could rot or be stolen, but on friends. He knew how to renounce the first in order to conquer for himself the second. This is the point.
“Use filthy money to make friends for yourselves so that when it fails, these people may welcome you into the eternal homes” (v. 9). This is the most important saying of today’s passage. It synthesizes the whole teaching of the parable.
What Jesus would like us to understand is that the only shrewd way of using the goods of this world is to use them to help others, to make them friends. They will be the ones to welcome us in life.
Jesus concludes his teaching by affirming that no servant can serve two masters… God or money. We would like to please both: It’s just one you can serve. Serve God by mastering how to use your riches. Serve God and master the other!